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Antibiotics for childhood infections are becoming ineffective

A recent study led by the University of Sydney has revealed a concerning decline in the effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat common infections in children and babies worldwide. 

This alarming resistance to antibiotics is leading to outdated global guidelines and a subsequent rise in avoidable deaths, particularly in regions such as South-East Asia and the Pacific.

Updates urgently needed

The study highlighted that many antibiotics, which are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), show less than 50 percent effectiveness in combating childhood infections like pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis. 

This indicates that the global guidelines on antibiotic use urgently require updates. It is worth noting that these findings are further supported by data in the journal “Lancet South East Asia.”

Thousands of preventable deaths

Regions facing the brunt of this crisis include South-East Asia and the Pacific, specifically nations like Indonesia and the Philippines. Thousands of preventable child deaths in these areas result from the growing antibiotic resistance each year.

Global health threat

The WHO has identified antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as one of the top 10 global public health threats. 

Among newborns, approximately three million sepsis cases are reported worldwide every year, leading to almost 570,000 deaths. A significant portion of these deaths can be attributed to antibiotics that are ineffective in treating bacteria resistant to them.

Of particular concern, the antibiotic ceftriaxone, commonly used in Australia to treat a myriad of child infections, is now found to be effective in only one out of three cases of newborn sepsis or meningitis. Another drug, gentamicin, often prescribed alongside aminopenicillins, is similarly losing its efficacy.

Focus of the research

Study lead author Dr. Phoebe Williams is an infectious disease specialist at the University’s School of Public Health and Sydney Infectious Diseases Institute. Her research is focused on reducing antimicrobial resistance in high-burden healthcare settings in Southeast Asia.

Antimicrobial resistance poses a more significant threat to children as newer antibiotics are less frequently tested on them.

For the study, the experts scrutinized 6,648 bacterial isolates from 11 countries, relying on data from 86 publications. 

Wake-up call 

Dr. Williams said the study should be a wake-up call for the whole world, including Australia. “We are not immune to this problem – the burden of antimicrobial resistance is on our doorstep,” she said.

Antibiotic resistance is rising more rapidly than we realize. We urgently need new solutions to stop invasive multidrug-resistant infections and the needless deaths of thousands of children each year.”

“Antibiotic clinical focus on adults and too often children and newborns are left out. That means we have very limited options and data for new treatments.”

Further research is needed 

Currently, Dr. Williams is researching the potential of an older antibiotic, fosfomycin, to counteract multidrug-resistant urinary tract infections in Australian children. She’s also actively collaborating with the WHO’s Paediatric Drug Optimisation Committee to expedite children’s access to effective antibiotics.

Study senior author Paul Turner is the director of the Cambodia Oxford Medical Research Unit at Angkor Hospital for Children, Siem Reap and a professor at the University of Oxford.

“This study reveals important problems regarding the availability of effective antibiotics to treat serious infections in children,” said Turner. “It also highlights the ongoing need for high quality laboratory data to monitor the AMR situation, which will facilitate timely changes to be made to treatment guidelines.”

The study is published in the journal The Lancet Regional Health – Southeast Asia

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